University of Alberta suspends admission to 20 arts programs


Photo Credit: Greg Southam/Edmonton Journal

Photo Credit: Greg Southam/Edmonton Journal

EDMONTON - The University of Alberta is suspending admission to 20 arts programs as the faculty grapples with a budget shortfall over the next three years.

The programs were chosen because they have had 10 or fewer students enrolled as majors in each fall term, from 2005 to 2012, according to an Aug. 16 memo from dean Lesley Cormack to her department chairs. Some of the programs have no students enrolled.

Cormack stressed that students already enrolled in the programs will be allowed to complete their major.

The suspensions would take effect immediately for 13 bachelor of arts majors, two majors in the bachelor of design program, four concentrations in the bachelor of music program and the technical theatre major in the bachelor of fine arts drama program. The programs range from Ukrainian folklore to Middle Eastern and African studies (see full list below).

“It’s important to recognize that this is good management of programs as much as it is anything to do with budgets,” Cormack said Sunday. “It’s unfortunate that it’s had to happen as quickly as it has. But the problem is, if you do it slowly, it sort of never happens.”

Enrolments should be regularly reviewed to ensure that programs are “useful and important” to students, she said.

Cormack couldn’t say how much money will be saved, calling it a slow and incremental change. Some programs will be eliminated, while others could be reinstated. The governance process to determine that could take up to a year, Cormack said.

Courses and minors will still be offered for the targeted programs. Italian studies, for instance, will be offered at the first- and second-year level. Graduate students and faculty members will also still complete research in their areas.

Cormack said about 50 students are enrolled in the 20 majors taught by about 50 faculty members. Some professors who taught senior-level courses will now teach larger first- and second-year courses, she said.

About 100 sections of arts courses were eliminated this year after a $1-million cut to the faculty’s contract instructor budget. A $3-million shortfall in the faculty’s 2013-14 budget also led to reduced graduate student funding and the removal of 11 faculty positions.

With additional cuts announced last March, Cormack expects the faculty’s budget to shrink by five to 10 per cent.

The faculty of arts can’t cut salaries or benefits because of a two-year collective agreement that the academic staff association has opted not to reopen. That leaves 38 more arts faculty positions on the chopping block.

“I think it’s going to be a very difficult six months. We don’t have many tools at our disposal,” Cormack said. “But most of the solutions are not faculty-specific — they’re institutional.”

The modern languages and cultural studies department is taking the brunt of the impact, with half of its majors suspended. Andriy Nahachewsky, chair of Ukrainian culture and ethnography, called the suspensions “very, very sad” for the department.

With Ukrainian folklore and language majors eliminated, professors are developing an undergraduate certificate in general folklore that will be finalized with “greater urgency,” Nahachewsky said.

“We’re going to focus on practical, meaningful, marketable skills, and folklore has an awful lot of those. So we’re actually pretty optimistic that we can find a silver lining from these dark clouds.”

Offering the most relevant, current programs that appeal to students is crucial for universities, Advanced Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said Sunday. Students vote with their tuition dollars and have sent a strong message to university administration, he said.

“People argue that if you don’t offer everything, you’re no longer a good university. Just the opposite is the case. You don’t judge the value and the excellence level of the university by the number of courses it offers.”

Tymothy Jaddock, president of the university’s Ukrainian Students Society, said members of the society were shocked by the suspensions and are scrambling to re-consider their degrees.

Jaddock, who’s entering his third year, moved to Edmonton to minor in Ukrainian folklore at the U of A, one of three schools in Canada that offers the program.

“I don’t think you can put relevancy on numbers when you’re talking about cultural and language preservation,” he said. “Anything that really made the University of Alberta special, they’re just axing now, which is ridiculous. And to do it this last minute is blasphemy.”

Jaddock said he’s urging members of the society to sign up for Ukrainian courses to boost low enrolment numbers.

Staff have until Sept. 3 to send their arguments to the dean against the recommended suspensions. Cormack said she will consider keeping majors that re-think their focus or pitch new ideas for recruitment.